I can’t recall any memories from childhood of my parents telling me I was pretty.
Before you start to feel sorry for me, I’m not sure that was a bad thing.
I never heard that sort of language, but I do remember near constant squeezing of my “baby face” as my parents called it. I remember being told over and over again was that I was smart, that I was funny, that I had energy and ideas and drive. Those things were flattering. If I may say so, they were also true.
When I went through my “everything is terrible and my parents deserve all the blame” phase in college, I was convinced that my deep insecurity about my appearance was their fault. It had to be, since it seemed everything else was.
For a while I thought I was unhappy with my appearance not because my parents didn’t tell me I was lovely, but because I was a woman surrounded by unattainable images. I’m becoming more and more convinced that this insecurity comes not from being a woman but from being human, from wanting more than anything for people to be attracted to us in many ways, and from feeling so powerless over that which, for most of the time, we cannot see.
No amount of affirmation would have convinced me I was attractive when I was depressed. The beauty- and body-anxiety would have made me crazy no matter what I was told. But there is something worth noting: all of those qualities my parents praised in me, brains, initiative, ambition, humor – I never once doubted any of those, and they have served me well.
I am blessed because my parents silence on matters of appearance didn’t mean that they didn’t approve of it, it meant they didn’t care. They knew which qualities would help me build a life, and they reminded me that I had them. In some ways I have paid the price, for valuing being smart over being beautiful. I am also blessed because in a world obsessed with image I have found my pockets of people who redefine beauty. They understand that the many attributes of a flourishing human being are the loveliest thing of all.